MeLLmo’s Roambi Business Visualization App Comes to iPad, Links to More Data Sources

If you want your company to buy you an iPad or an iPhone, here’s a tip. Get someone from MeLLmo to stop by and show its data visualization software to your firm’s CEO, CFO, or COO. The Del Mar, CA-based startup’s mobile business app, called Roambi, plugs into enterprise business-intelligence systems and creates interactive charts and graphs for the iPhone and iPad that are so slick that once an executive has tried a device loaded with the software, they usually don’t want to give it back.

“We’ve been with customers who are 100 percent on BlackBerry, and they want to buy iPhones just to run our application,” Santiago Becerra, MeLLmo’s co-founder, chairman, and CEO, told Xconomy last week. “With the iPad, it’s too early to tell, but I have one data point—I met yesterday with a Fortune 500 COO and showed him the iPad app and just left the iPad with him. This morning I heard that he’s already getting all his direct reports converted.”

The Roambi Visualizer iPhone app is available free from the iTunes app store. MeLLmo was careful to ensure that an iPad version—which shows off data to even better advantage than the iPhone app—would be available for the device’s launch on April 3. But the more significant news for the startup, which Bruce profiled last September, is the launch this week of an improved version of its enterprise server. This is the software that connects to business-intelligence systems and prepares data such as sales figures for display on mobile devices, and it’s the product that brings in MeLLmo’s actual revenue.

MeLLmo announced at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Las Vegas yesterday that “Roambi ES3,” as the server software is called, can connect with more business intelligence data sources: on top of SAP BusinessObjects, Salesforce CRM, and Microsoft Excel, it can now tap data from IBM Cognos, LifeRay, Microsoft Sharepoint, and Microsoft Reporting Services. In addition, the new server can create Flash versions of the usual Roambi charts and graphics, meaning employees can access Roambi data dashboards from their desktop or laptop computers as well as their Apple mobile devices.

The changes are intended to make the idea of mobile business intelligence dashboards attractive to a larger swath of companies. “We’re making a huge push to expand who can use Roambi,” says Quinton Alsbury, MeLLmo’s president. “We are doubling the set of data sources that can be integrated, and alongside the new connectivity we’re expanding the number of platforms.”

At the same time, the new server can show data in new ways, including a “trends” view that makes it easier to see how performance indicators are changing over time, and a “pod” view that let users create custom dashboards combining their favorite data types in one view. Behind the scenes, the company has introduced a number of other improvements, such as the ability to brand the Roambi app with customized skins and logos; an improved procedure for pushing different data to thousands of users within a single organization based on their authorization level; and enhanced security features, including the ability to remotely wipe business data from a device that’s been lost or stolen.

But what’s the ultimate point of putting all these pretty charts and graphs onto mobile devices? What company needs the service so much that they’d be willing to pay for Roambi ES3 on top of their existing business intelligence systems?

That’s a question Becerra, Alsbury, and other members of the core team at MeLLmo have been thinking about for a long while: Becerra’s previous company, Infommersion, developed a popular business intelligence dashboard called Xcelsius. In 2005 Becerra sold Infommersion to Business Objects, which later became part of SAP. But for all his work on visualization tools, Becerra says most business intelligence systems still go underutilized for lack of easy, attractive interfaces.

“Most large companies invest millions of dollars in setting up reporting and business intelligence systems,” he says. “One that we spoke with recently has 20,000 users on their BI software, and they’re spending tens of millions of dollars a year to empower those 20,000 people. But the percentage of people using it is surprisingly low, because the system is so hard to use, and it’s so difficult to really get the meaning of the information. If, through better visualizations, you can enhance even by 10 percent the number of people actually using that information as they should, you get an incredible value-add for the company.”

Roambi trends view on the iPadSo that’s the visualization argument; the mobile argument, says Alsbury, is that managers need business data wherever they may be, which—more and more—is away from their desks. “My definition of a mobile work is not just a guy who’s at the airport or out in the field,” says Alsbury. “Probably 90 percent of the day he’s just walking from cubicle to cubicle or conference room to conference room.”

And that’s the scenario where the iPad version of Roambi really shines, Alsbury says. “We get a lot of questions about whether the iPad is going to have an impact for business users,” he says. “E-mail is adequately serviced by laptops, but as you move up the pyramid to company data, that is where Roambi fits. There is a sweet spot where mobile phones start to hit their limit and I think the iPad fits very nicely in that spot.”

MeLLmo has raised about $14 million in angel funding and has 45 full-time employees (up from 28 when Bruce looked at the company last fall). “We believe that with the traction we’re getting, there is going to be an explosion in the second half of this year,” says Becerra. “So by the end of the year we plan to be almost double what we are today in terms of head count and revenue.” Which should make it all the easier to pay for those loaner iPads that executives don’t want to give back.

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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